von Joschua Posaner
Germany and the European Commission on Thursday struck a deal on controversial plans to introduce tolls on the autobahn network.
It ends a two-year dispute over Berlin’s proposals to impose a charge on motorists using non-German registered vehicles, which the Commission said discriminated against foreigners and violated EU law.
Germany is one of only a few EU countries not to charge motorists for using its highway system, instead funding the autobahns through taxes. But Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt has been pushing plans that would see German drivers pay less than non-Germans — which set off alarm bells in the Commission.
Under the deal, reached on the sidelines of today’s meeting of transport ministers in Brussels, rates will be cut for short-term vignettes typically used by foreigners while a proposed refund through taxes for locals will be pegged to the environmental impact of the vehicle, measured by its emissions.
Germany will need to make two legislative changes to seal the deal and get a case launched against it at the European Court of Justice dropped. In the meantime, Brussels will freeze the court dispute to give German lawmakers time to make the necessary changes.
“The ball is now in Mr. Dobrindt’s camp and I am counting on him to make the necessary legislative changes,” said Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc. “Once this is done, we will be able to formally close the case.”
The Commission said it would take Germany to the ECJ in September over the toll plans, prompting defiant words from Dobrindt, who insisted politically lucrative toll plans in his home region of Bavaria would be pushed through anyway.
Dobrindt had initially negotiated a deal with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s team. Relations between Bulc and the German minister for transport and digital infrastructure are not especially warm, according to sources on both sides.
Dobrindt’s party, the Christian Social Union — the Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats — used the charging plan as a pledge ahead of national elections next year.
But not everyone agrees with the compromise, with tax reductions for German drivers set to remain.
“The European Commission has agreed to an unpleasant compromise,” German Green MEP Michael Cramer, chair of the European Parliament’s transport and tourism committee, said. “In the end, only foreign drivers will have to shell out [for] the toll.”